Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Butter Paneer Curry and Leftover Curry Naan Pizza

Okay...I lied. Turns out it's not such a Wordless Wednesday after all! =p You will forgive me, right? So today's dish consists of 2 Indian foods I've wanted to try at home for a very long time: butter paneer masala and naan flatbread! And the genius idea of combining them into a "pizza" of sorts is one I've wanted to test out ever since I sampled a similar appetizer at the fab D.C. restaurant Indique 3 years ago (yes threee!).

Butter Paneer Curry Pizza
There's no getting around it. Homemade paneer cheese and naan do require hours of waiting time (draining/pressing time for the 1st and dough relaxing time for the 2nd). But when you look at the hands on time for it all, it's really just no more than an hour for everything. There is one very real problem to this plan, though. Paneer curry is so well loved (at least around here) that there's little chance of finding naturally occurring "leftovers" to make into naan pizza. I offer these possible solutions: (1) do what I did and just use the fresh curry to make pizza or (2) double the curry recipe but don't let anyone else know you did lest they go rummaging.

If you like Indian food as much as we do, you'll definitely enjoy these. But even if you don't, homemade (or even store-bought) naan is a great shortcut when you don't have pizza dough on hand. Just replace the curry with cheese, veggies, pepperoni, or whatever else you like on your pizzzzza-pies. Happy eating! Lastly, just a reminder that I'm now on Twitter. Please stop by and say hi -- I'm still adjusting to this Brave New World ;p.

Manjula's Butter Paneer Curry [Printable Recipes]
Adapted from Manjula's Kitchen (she has a video tutorial)
Serves 2 to 4

XIAOLU'S NOTES: After a couple of comments about how time-intensive it'd be to make everything from scratch, I wanted to assure you that you don't have to go DIY crazy like me to make really yummy curry, naan, or naan pizza. I'm really just offering several ideas for you to play with and hopefully fit into your own cooking. Feel free to use store-bought paneer and naan. You could even just make naan pizza with traditional pizza toppings like tomato sauce, cheese, pepperoni, etc. As always I encourage you to play with your food!

1/2 lb. paneer (cubed) [I made my own following this tutorial]
Canola or vegetable oil to fry the cheese
2 ripe medium tomatoes
1 jalapeno or other green chili pepper
1/4-inch piece ginger
2 tsp canola or vegetable oil
Pinch of asafoetida (hing) [Fine to omit if you can't find this]
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 Tbsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp turmeric (haldi)
1/2 tsp red chili powder
2 bay leaves
1 tsp cornstarch
1 1/2 Tbsp heavy cream or half and half
1/2 cup yogurt, very well beaten with a fork or whisk
1/2 cup green peas (optional)
Scant 3/4 tsp salt, more or less to taste
1/2 tsp garam masala
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
1 tsp sugar, if desired

In a pan, saute the paneer cubes (in batches if necessary) in oil that's about 1/4-inch deep until golden brown and crisp on all sides. Remove, letting the oil drain off from a slotted spatula or spoon as you do so, and set aside.

Using a handheld immersion blender, traditional blender, or food processor, puree the tomatoes, green chili pepper, and ginger.

Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add asafoetida and cumin seeds. Once the cumin seeds have cracked (you'll hear it), add the tomato paste, tomato puree, coriander powder, turmeric, red chili powder, and bay leaves. Cook for about 4 minutes more. The tomato mixture will start to separate visibly from the oil and will reduce to about half its starting volume.

Dissolve the cornstarch in the heavy cream until smooth then add the mixture and the well-beaten yogurt to the gravy. Cook for about 3 to 4 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Next, add the green peas (if using) and fried paneer cubes. Let cook for a few minutes until the peas are tender. Finally, add the salt, garam masala, and cilantro. Taste the curry, adding a little sugar if the gravy is sour (add 1 to 2 pinches of baking soda if gravy is very sour) or salt if needed. Serve hot with basmati rice and/or Indian flatbread such as naan (see recipe below) or chapati.

Naan Flatbread
Slightly adapted from Indian Simmer
Makes 6 to 7 naan

NOTES: These are the ingredients for dough and then you can flavor your naan with all kinds of herbs, including cumin naan, garlic naan, butter naan and some topped with cilantro greens. So have fun with this!

2 cups all purpose flour or wheat flour
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 cup warm milk
1/2 cup yogurt
1/2 Tbsp canola or vegetable oil

Mix all the dry ingredients together and make a well of flour. Now mix milk and yogurt together. Pour half of yogurt mixture and the oil into the well and slowly combine. There isn't an exact amount of liquid that should be added to make a perfect dough. So just add liquid slowly and combine it all together slowly until a soft dough is made. The dough should be soft enough for you to be able to dig your finger into it without applying any pressure. If dough sticks to hand too much then use little bit of oil on hand and then punch into the dough. Cover with damp cloth and let it sit in a warm place for at least 2 hours.

After a few hours, dust your working board with flour, take out the dough and knead it about 2 to 3 minutes. Divide the dough into smaller balls (you should get about 6 or 7 balls to make naans). Flour the board again and flatten [I used a combination of rolling and pulling] the balls to make bread which is a little thick and elongated [about 7 to 8 inches long]. If desired, sprinkle one side of the bread with a flavor of your choosing (such as cumin, minced garlic, or chopped cilantro). Brush the other side with water.

Heat a thick bottom skillet or a wok or any heavy bottom pan with a lid. Once its nicely hot, place the naan wet side down which would stick and cover it with a lid. Let it cook for about 30 seconds or until you see bubbles on top. Now cook the other side of the naan over the direct flame of a burner with the help of tongs (be careful!). When you see some charred brown spots then you know that the naan is done. Spread some butter over the bubbly side and enjoy!

Curry Naan Pizza
Assembly adapted from Tasty Kitchen
Makes 4 small naan pizzas

1 1/2 cups Butter Paneer Curry [Leftover from above recipe]
4 Naan Flatbreads [Leftover from above recipe]
Grated mozzarella cheese (optional)
Fresh cilantro leaves, to garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Brush one side of each naan bread with olive or vegetable oil, and place breads on a large baking sheet, oiled side down. Spread about 1/3 cup of paneer curry across each piece of naan, leaving at least a 1/4-inch border around the edges. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese, if desired. Bake naans for 6 to 8 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro leaves and dig in!

An Oldie I Dug Up =) (Wordless Wednesday)

Brown Eggs

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Feeling Grateful (Outrageous Chocolate Butterscotch Cookies)

Outrageous Chocolate Butterscotch Chip Cookies

Thanks for your thoughtful comments on my last 2 posts mentioning the situation in Japan. Right now there's certainly no less to be concerned about than before, especially with the latest news that milk and spinach with abnormally-high levels of radiation have been found up to 90 miles from Japan's nuclear sites. But I've also noticed many positives to be found in the aftermath of this disaster.

My blogger friend E, who lives in Japan, demonstrated this in her beautiful description of the interactions around her...she saw unprecedented challenges yet not chaos but community. And here is another lovely example via my friend, Prerna. Those of us who are further away have also felt a strengthened sense of unity and compassion, as we seek to help our Japanese brothers and sisters however we can. Beyond that, the startling developments of the last week and a half have knocked many of us out of the blurry haze that had become our day-to-day. Reminded us to treasure each moment, to make time for the people and causes most dear to our hearts, and to be thankful for all the wonderful gifts in our lives.

In addition to my wonderfully supportive family and longtime friends, I've been especially grateful for the talented women and now new friends I've met recently through blogging and photography. These include lovely ladies such as Trissa (who sent me the latest issue of my favorite magazine all the way from Australia!), Sala, Lisa, and Joy. Last but definitely not least is my friend Crystal, who I met through Flickr.

As you might sense from her self-portrait above, Crystal's a sweet, gorgeous girl who adds joy to all around her through her personality and her photography. Her Flickr photostream is full of creative self-portraits as well as her adorable crafts and bento lunches. As if that weren't enough, she surprised me this winter with an adorable chocolate caramel cookie stuffed doll made just for me! I squealed when I saw her photo of it (below) and again when I got it in the mail. Wouldn't you have, too?

Cookie Toy
Photos via

As soon as I finished geeking out over the adorableness of her gift, my first thought was to repay Crystal for her thoughtfulness. The thing was...I can't sew (or even draw) a straight line to save my life. But baking...baking I could do. And it was easy to decide on the treat I'd make -- an edible version of my new felt friend, of course! These cookies were just what I'd wanted -- dense and fudgy, like a brownie in cookie form (based on the few I had to eat for quality control 8p). Crystal, thanks for being such a great friend even though we've never even met face-to-face. I hope these cookies make you as happy as your gift made me!

Now I'd love to hear about any unexpected acts of kindness you've performed, received, or even witnessed. And, of course, any thoughts/feelings you're having due to what's going on in Japan. Thanks to you guys, too, for being there for me. It's been an honor to "meet" you!

PS - I
finally caved and joined Twitter. Stop by and say hi!

Outrageous Fudgy Chocolate Butterscotch Chip Cookies [Printable Recipe]
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Makes 2 dozen cookies

8 ounces semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2/3 cup all purpose flour [spooned and leveled to measure]
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/3 tsp salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup PLUS 2 Tbsp packed light brown sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup butterscotch chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 1 or 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats, if you have them. Heat chopped chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe bowl in 20-second intervals, stirring in between, until almost melted; do not overheat since chocolate burns easily. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla on high speed until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to low; beat in melted chocolate. Mix in flour mixture until just combined. Stir in butterscotch chips. Refrigerate the dough for about 15 minutes.

Drop heaping tablespoons of dough 2 to 3 inches apart onto baking sheets. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until cookies are shiny and crackly yet soft in centers, about 11 to 15 minutes total. (Do NOT overbake these, as these cookies can easily become dry.) Cool on sheets 10 minutes; with a thin spatula, carefully transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Baileys, Baileys, Baileys...Oh! (Homemade Irish Cream Liqueur)

Homemade Irish Cream

My plan had been to start this post with an explanation of its silly title, inspired by the Justin Bieber song "Baby" that inexplicably got stuck in my head this week. But in light of the devastating natural disasters that have struck and continue to threaten those in Japan, I think it's more appropriate to instead take a minute of silence and also entreat you to help those affected in any way you can, small or large.

I don't know many people personally in Japan, but I immediately thought of my blogger friend E and casual college buddies J and H. Fortunately, they all communicated they were safe via email or Facebook. Isn't technology wonderful at times like these? My boyfriend P had taught English in Japan for a year and also had friends/students he was concerned about but who all turned out to be okay, thankfully.

To be honest, with all the natural disasters that have been in the news in recent years, the impact of this one didn't hit me for at least a few hours. It wasn't until I saw footage of the rising water swallowing up whole towns, cars and people being swept away like little toys, and other people trapped on rooftops, that the reality of it all flooded in. I honestly have no idea and can't even imagine what it's like to be in Japan right now. But I'll definitely be keeping all of those affected by this disaster close in my thoughts and in my heart.

Homemade Irish Cream

On a lighter note, I do still want to share my latest Irish-themed treat just in time for St. Patrick's Day (March 17) festivities. Now I'm not a big alcohol drinker (not even beer) but man do I love Baileys Irish Cream. Let's keep this just between you and me ;p but my dad actually let me try it in my early teens. Immediately I was mesmerized by its smooth creamy texture, well-balanced coffee and chocolate flavors, and gentle whiskey kick.

What I haven't loved as much is the hefty price tag on the store-bought version. Until recently, this factor alone limited my enjoyment of Irish cream to maybe twice a year only. Well those days are at an end, my friends. Would you believe you can make a delicious and less expensive homemade version in 5 minutes? Not only can I enjoy sipping on Irish cream on the rocks more often, this discovery is also inspiring all sorts of Irish cream-based recipes from cupcakes to cheesecakes and beyond. And homemade liqueur is even great to give as gifts. If you or your friends are Baileys-lovers like me, you simply must try this recipe =D.

Homemade Irish Cream Liqueur [Printable Recipe]
Adapted from Allrecipes
Makes about 1 quart (4 cups)

XIAOLU'S NOTES: I decreased the amount of whiskey from the original recipe because I made it and the alcoholic burn was a bit much for me (though still tasty). Feel free to reduce it even more, or increase it as high as 1 2/3 cups depending on your taste preference. I also substituted half the cream with milk with no ill effect on taste. For a super rich version, use all cream. Some recipes I've come across use up to 4 raw eggs per quart of cream liqueur. I've left that out, but feel free to experiment and tell me how it turns out!

1 tsp instant coffee granules
2 tsp unsweetened natural cocoa powder
3/4 cup heavy cream, divided
3/4 cup milk
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1 Tbsp honey
1 to 1 1/2 cups Irish whiskey
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract (optional)

In a small bowl or cup, mix together instant coffee, cocoa powder, and 2 tablespoons of heavy cream until smooth. Using a conventional or hand-held immersion blender, combine the coffee cocoa mixture, remaining heavy cream, milk, sweetened condensed milk, honey, Irish whiskey, vanilla extract, and almond extract and blend on high for 20 to 30 seconds. Transfer to a container, seal tightly, and store in the refrigerator. For the best flavor, let chill at least overnight to allow the flavors to meld together. Shake well before using. This should keep for up to 2 months.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Finding My Dream Cakestand

Photo from Woman's Day

Hi there, my lovely readers! I have another fun St. Patrick's Day recipe in the works that I can't wait to share with you all this weekend. But today all I have is a simple request. First, let me emphasize that this lovely photo is not mine but that of one of my favorite photographers, the ever amazing Con Poulos. And though I do love me some cupcakes, the real point of this post is to ask (plea, even?) for help obtaining the beautiful doily cake stand pictured above. I'd been searching for this stand for almost a year when I recently learned that it was sold by Anthropologie some time ago but is and will no longer be available form them. I'm not sure if it's sold somewhere else, but I'd be so grateful if you let me know if you've seen it. Or if you or someone you know owns it and is willing to sell it, I'd be willing to purchase it for full price or possibly higher. I know this is an unconventional means to find something, but it just shows how desperately I've fallen in love with this piece. Thanks for bearing with and helping me -XL <3

Monday, March 7, 2011

Musical Monday

It's gonna be a long week with exams and papers, so I'm sure to rely a lot on my favorite music to get me through each day. I thought I'd share a few of my current favorites, both recent and older. Hope you enjoy them!

Cut Copy - Pharaohs & Pyramids

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Ain't So Pretty But Sure Is Tasty (Roasted Vegetable Chorizo Frittata)

After the 2 recent posts about food styling/photography, you all must realize I'm quite devoted to making the food on this blog attractive. After all, we eat with the eyes first, don't we? When I pulled this frittata out of the oven and saw how brown it'd gotten, I knew that task wouldn't be easy this time. Well folks, I made the best of the brown edges and setting sun, but clearly it's far from ideal 8). What I can offer, however, is my guarantee that this frittata will impress you with its ease and yumminess!

Roasted Vegetable Soy Chorizo Frittata

The addition of chorizo sausage (soy in my case) was simply inspired on Donna Hay's part. I loved getting alternating bits of spicy flavorful "meaty" sausage and tender roasted vegetables (both in one bite when I was lucky!). The beets, potatoes, butternut squash, and onion used here are well-suited in taste and seasonality. But that shouldn't stop you from substituting whatever's in season in your part of the world. Please do also play with other herb and spice combinations. Just think of this recipe as a fantastic blueprint from which to build your own favorite frittata.

Now I'd love to know if you make frittata at home. And what are your favorite add-ins? Plus don't forget to enter my giveaway and food blog photography contest if you haven't already!

Roasted Winter Vegetable Chorizo Frittata [Printable Recipe]
Adapted from Donna Hay via The Baking Bird
Serves 4

XIAOLU'S NOTES: The original recipe called for 3/4 cup of heavy cream, half of which I replaced with milk instead. I thought the dish tasted perfect, but feel free to use all cream if you want something richer. On the other hand, if you want to lighten it up a bit, try replacing another 3 tablespoons of cream with milk and/or replacing 1 to 2 whole eggs with 2 egg whites per egg.

3 baby beets OR 1 to 2 regular beets, peeled and sliced
2 small red potatoes, sliced
1/4 medium butternut squash, sliced into 1/6 to 1/4-inch strips
1 small to medium red onion, sliced
1 chorizo sausage, crumbled [I used 1 1/2 vegetarian chorizo sausages]
1 to 2 tsp fresh thyme (optional)
2 Tbsp olive oil
5 large eggs
6 Tbsp milk [whole or lowfat, not skim]
6 Tbsp heavy cream
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
Sea salt and cracked black pepper, to taste.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place beets, potato, pumpkin, onion, soyrizo, thyme, and oil in a 9 x 13-inch baking dish (about 2-quart capacity) and toss to combine. Roast for 30 minutes or until vegetables are golden and cooked through.

Place eggs, milk, cream, parmesan, salt and pepper in a bowl and whisk to combine. Pour mixture over the vegetables and return to the oven for another 15 to 20 minutes or until puffed and golden.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Does My Blog Look Good in This: March 2011


I'm delighted to be hosting this month's "Does My Blog Look Good in This?" event. DMBLGIT was started in 2005 by Andrew of SpittoonExtra. It's best described as a monthly food and drink photography event open to all bloggers who have posted a food photograph on their blogs during the previous month. At least 6 awards are given each month based on scoring of photographs in the 3 categories of edibility, aesthetics, and originality by 5 judges. To check out the winners from last month’s DMBLGIT event, please stop by Simplicious.

General DMBLGIT Rules:

  • Only one food/drink photograph may be entered per person.
  • The photograph must have been taken by you.
  • The photograph must have been posted on your blog between February 1 through 28, 2011.
  • The deadline to submit your entry is March 20, 2011 at midnight, whenever that is in your part of the world.


A panel of 5 judges, to be introduced later this month, will choose 6 winners based on the following criteria:

Aesthetics: composition, food styling, lighting, focus, etc.
Edibility: does the photo make us want to take a big bite out of our computer monitor while drooling on our keyboard?
Originality: a photo that makes you stop, look twice, and think “Wow! I never thought of photographing it like that before.”

Three overall winners will be selected plus one in each of the 3 categories. As host I have the privilege of choosing one photo that I think stands out, but wasn’t chosen as a winner. My post announcing the winners for this month will be published by April 1, 2011 (I promise not to play any pranks ^_^).

How to Enter DMBLGIT:

Send an e-mail with "DMBLGIT Entry" as the subject line to me at xiaolu6 [at] gmail [dot] com. In your email, please include:

  • An attachment of a single qualifying food or drink photo you'd like to enter. It should be without text and no more than 500 pixels in width.
  • Your name
  • Your blog URL
  • The title of the image/what it is
  • The URL of the post containing the photograph
  • The camera and lens you used

Photographs will be loaded into this gallery in Picasa as I receive them. If you don't get an acknowledgment from me within 72 hours of sending your entry, please leave a message in the comments section of this post. By submitting a photo, entrants agree to their photo being redisplayed and altered in size on the host’s page and on the SpittoonExtra DMBLGiT page.

If you have any questions about this month's event, please feel free to email me. Anyone with interest in hosting a future edition of DMBLGiT should email Andrew with "DMBLGIT Host" as the subject. I can't wait to see each and every one of your beautiful entries!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Thin Mint Cupcakes for St. Patty's Day and Another Giveaway!

I've noticed that the older I get and more responsibilities I take on, the easier it becomes to lose touch with old friends. On the other hand, the older I get, the more I realize how much they truly mean to me. Consequently I've recently stepped up my efforts to see or at least chat with more of my friends on a regular basis.

A few weeks ago I caught up with my college roommate M and found out she'd landed an awesome new job in California and would be moving right away. Immediately I was filled with joy for her success along with a twinge of regret for not having seen her more while she was nearby. You see M is the type of friend that opens her life to you and makes you feel comfortable as soon as you see her, whether you last talked a day or a year ago. She's supportive, not a bit judgmental, sweet, and really fun to be around.

What's done was done, but I was presented with the perfect opportunity to support and celebrate her next big step with an invitation to her going-away party. After some persistent research, it came out that she loves mint while her boyfriend M loves chocolate. And here I had just bookmarked a Thin Mint-inspired cupcake recipe days ago...was this meant-to-be or what?

Thin Mint Cupcakes

These cupcakes were tender but rich, full of both the chocolate and mint flavors M and M favored. In fact I found these cakes even tastier than the Girl Scout cookies that inspired them! I say this humbly as this recipe is only slightly adapted from Trophy Cupcakes in Seattle, who also created the s'mores cupcakes I made previously (see popular posts in the sidebar). Upon seeing the green of the mint buttercream, I thought these would be great for St. Patrick's Day (coming up on March 17) and couldn't help topping a few with lucky shamrocks =D.

As promised I'm back with yet another giveaway -- this time in conjunction with CSN Stores, which sell everything from cake pans to modern furniture. One lucky reader (US or Canadian residents only) will win a $40 gift certificate that can be used toward ANY product from ANY one of CSN's many sites (shipping not included).
To enter, simply do as many of the following as you want and leave a separate comment for each thing you do! The giveaway will close on March 31 at midnight, and the winner will be announced shortly thereafter. THIS GIVEAWAY HAS ENDED. THANKS TO ALL WHO ENTERED!
  • Check out the CSN Stores websites and leave a comment telling me what you'd spend this gift certificate on.
  • Subscribe to this blog, then leave a comment telling me you did or already do.
  • Blog about any food/drink by March 31, and include in your post: a photo of food, a photo of your photography set-up, what effect you were hoping to achieve, what you felt you successfully achieved, and what you still hope to improve upon. Then leave a comment with a link to your blog post.
  • Link to this giveaway on Facebook, then leave a comment telling me.
  • Tweet about this giveaway, then leave a comment telling me.
  • Blog about this giveaway, then leave a comment telling me.
Chocolate Thin Mint Cupcakes [Printable Recipe]
Adapted from Trophy Cupcakes via For the Love of Design
Makes 12 to 13 cupcakes

XIAOLU'S NOTES: Only make the ganache after you've frosted the cupcakes since the ganache will need to be used immediately. Cupcakes may be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days. This recipe could definitely be doubled successfully, since I scaled it down from a recipe from 2 dozen cupcakes.

1 cup sugar
3/4 cup PLUS 2 Tbsp all purpose flour
6 1/2 Tbsp unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg, room temperature
1/2 cup milk [NOT skim]
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup boiling water

Mint Buttercream (Recipe Below)
Mint Chocolate Ganache (Recipe Below)

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease tops of a cupcake pan and then line it with baking liners.

In a large bowl, sift together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add egg, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared cupcake liners, filling no more than 3/4 full. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick or thin knife inserted into the center of one comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes, then remove from pans to wire racks to finish cooling.

Once cakes are completely cool, place all but 1/4 to 1/3 cup of buttercream in pastry bag fitted with any long and skinny tip that's good for filling. Insert tip into the center of the cupcake and almost to the bottom. Fill each cupcake with 1 to 2 tablespoons of buttercream. Be careful not to overfill, as the top of the cupcake may come off. Alternately, you may cut a cone out of the top of each cupcake and fill with buttercream (an apple corer works well too). Try to make the top of the buttercream level with the cupcake so that there is a smooth top. Cover and chill the reserved buttercream for piping on as decoration at the end. [Make the ganache at this point.]

Dip each cupcake upside-down into the ganache up to the liner, lift cake out of chocolate, and let excess ganache drip off. Next, turn cupcake right-side up and place on wire rack to let ganache set (about 1 hour). (If ganache begins to harden before all of the cupcakes are dipped you may heat for 5-second intervals in a microwave until chocolate is smooth again).

Once ganache is completely set, take the leftover buttercream out of the fridge. Stir to smooth it out. If too stiff to pipe, let sit at room temperature until it softens a little. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a small round tip or a small plastic zipper-lock bag. If using a zipper-lock bag, snip off a small corner of the bag. To make a shamrock design like this on top of each cupcake, start by piping 4 clover leaves by squeezing straight down to form 4 circular blobs. Then pipe a stem from between 2 leaves. You could also pipe a flower or any other desired pattern or message on top. Enjoy!

Mint Buttercream
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp mint extract
Pinch of salt
Drop of green food coloring (optional)

Cream butter using an electric mixer. When butter is soft and fluffy, start adding sifted powdered sugar a little at a time. When all of the sugar is incorporated, add salt, and mint extract. Add food coloring, if using. Beat until creamy.

Mint Chocolate Ganache
3 oz. bittersweet chocolate (chips or finely chopped bar)
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tsp unsalted butter
3/4 tsp mint extract

Make ganache after you fill the cupcakes with buttercream. Place chocolate in a medium to large bowl. Bring heavy cream, butter, and mint extract just to a boil. Pour hot cream mixture over chocolate and let sit for about 5 minutes. Begin stirring mixture and continue stirring until the mixture is uniform and smooth (may take about 5 minutes of stirring). Use immediately.